Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ahangrahopasana and Aropa, Part III

As I have been pointing out, Vaishnavism is about engaging the senses in the service of the Lord. In some cases, this sense activity seems to contradict the service principle. After all, the conception of Vrindavan is distinct from Svarga precisely on this point: that the latter is a place of elaborate sense enjoyment (divi deva-bhoga), whereas the former is a universe predicated on pure love. Have we not ourselves mocked the Muslim heaven and the virgins one the faithful will there deflower?

So how does Madhumangal serve the Lord when he demonstrates the character of a glutton? We assume that he has a spiritual body and does not need to eat in order to maintain it for the sake of service, as can be claimed by those who cite the need for prasad to keep body and soul together. Obviously, "service" has a wider semantic range than that which immediately springs to mind in the classical sense. How is Krishna pleased when we look on his image or even chant his name? If the goal is to engage our senses in the service of the owner of the senses (hṛṣīkeṇa hṛṣīkeśa-sevanam), does this mean that we cannot experience any pleasure (harṣa) at all? Such a concept would make verses like the following completely meaningless--

tasyāravinda-nayanasya padāravinda-
antar-gataḥ sva-vivareṇa cakāra teṣāṁ
saṅkṣobham akṣara-juṣām api citta-tanvoḥ

Even though [the Four Kumaras] were fixed in the Imperishable, their minds and bodies became agitated when the breeze entered their nostrils carrying the sweet fragrance of tulasi mixed with saffron from the lotus feet of the Lotus-Eyed Lord. [SB. 3.15.43]
So the concept of using the senses to "serve" the master of the senses is a little more complex than simply carrying water or pan bidis to the Divine Couple. The teaching of Gaudiya Vaishnavism is that even though ontologically we are not these bodies, we are sensual beings and these bodies, when engaged in a particular attitude toward Krishna called bhajan, are spiritualized in order to make these senses capable of being used spiritually. sevonmukhe hi jihvādau svayam eva sphuraty adaḥ.

There are several ways of looking at activities and defining them as devotional in nature. In Bhakti-sandarbha 217-224, Jiva describes three kinds of bhakti: saṅga-siddhā, āropa-siddhā, and svarūpa-siddhā. Those in the first category (āropa-siddhā) are activities that are not directly connected to Krishna or bhakti and are only consecrated in some way after the fact. The verse given as an example is:

kāyena vācā manasendriyair vā
buddhyātmanā vānusṛta-svabhāvāt
karoti yad yat sakalaṁ parasmai
nārāyaṇāyeti samarpayet tat
Whatever one does in following his nature, whether in body, words, or mind, with the senses, intelligence or soul, one should offer it to the Supreme Lord Narayan. [BhP 11.2.36]
So in this widest definition of devotion, scope is given to acts that follow one’s own nature (anusṛta-svabhāvā) as devotion. The yat karoṣi verse from the Bhagavad Gita (9.29) can also be quoted in this connection, as well as the injunction to offer "whatever is most desired to oneself" [11.11.41].

Saṅga-siddhā bhakti is another name for mixed devotion. For instance, renunciation, compassion, or friendship to all creatures, which are not in themselves devotion, are counted amongst the Bhāgavata-dharmas in the 11th canto because they are cultivated in association with svarūpa-siddhā devotional activities. Without the latter, they are not devotion, but when done in “companionship” (tat-parikaratayā) with direct bhakti, they are counted as pure devotion.

Svarūpa-siddhā bhakti is that which stands on its own, for it contains innate devotional power, such as hearing and chanting about Krishna. The proof of the direct potency of such activities is that even if performed unconsciously, like Prahlada in a previous life who performed Ekadasi, or the Puranic story of a falcon that had been pounced on by a dog and was being carried around in the dog’s mouth. After the dog had circumambulated a temple of Vishnu three times, the bird died and went to Vaikuntha. So even though these beings were mūḍha, they were benefited by the devotional activities that they unwittingly performed. How much more beneficial, it is asked rhetorically, would such activities be if performed in full consciousness and with purity of intent!

Thus, the general idea here is that svarūpa-siddhā activities, i.e., those that are directly devotional in nature and prescribed in the scriptures, are the best and most effective in nourishing the sense of devotional relationship with Krishna. Nevertheless, the first two kinds of devotion are not to be thought of as entirely inconsequential, nor can they be entirely absent from any sādhanā, since life itself involves actions that are not always directly devotional in nature. Even rajoguṇa and tamoguṇa are not entirely rejected as they can be useful to the devotee to a degree when employed for devotional service. Jiva finds it necessary, therefore, to divide all three of the above kinds of practice into akaitava or sakaitava (Bhakti-sandarbha 217), meaning sincere or hypocritical, depending on the motivation that spurs the particular activity. Thus it may be possible for one person to engage in āropa-siddhā bhakti sincerely, while another engages in svarūpa-siddhā bhakti hypocritically, with the former practitioner getting greater benefit from his efforts than the latter.

In other words, the inner attitude of the devotee counts for a lot here. It must be remembered that the purpose of all external devotional activities (vidhi-bhakti) is to purify the heart and to develop love for Krishna. As the consciousness of the devotee is transformed, his attitude towards phenomena changes and he becomes more and more aware of the world without as a manifestation of Krishna, making the distinction between the three kinds of bhakti somewhat moot.

Now I imagine that most devotees brought up in the orthodox tradition will not find any way to see sexual activity to be svarūpa-siddhā bhakti: it does not have direct, i.e., an immediate and exclusive, connection to Krishna as in Jiva's definition of svarūpa-siddhā devotion. In other words, sex does not of itself have an unmistakable connection to Krishna. For most orthodox devotees, sexual activity itself is a type of vikarma. There is so much condemnation of sexuality as the essence of material consciousness, the essence of the "enjoying" consciousness. As one devotee put it, "it goes against the very principle of service."

If the jiva's relation of love is meant to be exclusively given to Krishna to the exception of all other persons, then how can absorption in both the physical and emotional aspects of a relation with someone of the opposite sex be anything but a very dangerous distraction? Thus any effort to "dovetail" this activity through āropa or saṅga would fall into the kaitava, or self-deceiving, category of devotional activity.

For them, sex might at best be considered āropa-siddhā or saṅga siddha. The kind of Iskcon variety garbhādhāna-saṁskāra is designed in the consciousness that sexual activity has only one purpose—procreation—and that it is so dangerous spiritually that one has to more or less counteract the negative potential by inundating the mind with so many rounds of japa that one’s senses will be numbed and entirely impervious to the sensual experience! This would be somewhat akin to Gaur Kishor Das Babaji’s famously offering a raw eggplant and eating it as prasad—highly admirable, perhaps, but certainly a great distance from what most people understand about the taking of prasad as a devotional activity.

Though I have already discussed these matters to some extent in an earlier posting, I would like to briefly restate my response to the above. I would hold that the kind of love-making I am talking about has characteristics of all three kinds of devotion.

First of all, I want to make it clear that the precondition to all this is that the devotees are akaitava, i.e., their goal is to enter the inner world of Radha and Krishna's pastimes in the companionship of another devotee. In other words, the intention here is not to provide tricks for people looking to spice up their erotic lives with a bit of "tantric sex." On the other hand, this can be seen as the fulfillment of the sexual instinct in this body.

This means, furthermore, that such sexuality must be conducted in the mode of goodness. Sexual activity conducted in the modes of passion and ignorance, i.e., by people in the modes of passion and ignorance, may through āropa or saṅga, have its negative effects mitigated, but they will not be highly beneficial sādhanā, in the way that I conceive it.

In sāttvika consciousness, lovemaking becomes āropa-siddhā bhakti much in the way that ordinary eating becomes a devotional activity through ritual offering to the Deity. There are specific rituals, including bodily purification, bhūta-śuddhi, saṅkalpa-mantras, pūjā, etc., that are meant to direct the consciousness toward seeing the Divine Couple present in the act of lovemaking.

Moreover, through use of the Kāma-bija and Kāma-gāyatrī mantras, the devotee couple cultivates a consciousness of oneness in the Divine Realm. The intense power shared by two consciousnesses united physically in the aura of the Holy Name and the Mantra, can be qualified as saṅga-siddha at a very minimum, though in fact it goes well beyond that.

In one respect, I hold that devotional lovemaking is svarūpa-siddha: I thought of this verse, which is indeed central to the entire concept:

akṣṇoḥ phalaṁ tvādṛśa-darśanaṁ hi
tvacaḥ phalaṁ tvādṛśa-gātra-saṅgaḥ
jihvā-phalaṁ tvādṛśa-kīrtanaṁ hi
sudurlabhā bhāgavatā hi loke
The goal of the eyes is to see someone like you; the goal of the skin is to embrace the body of one such as you. The goal of the tongue is to sing the glories of one such as you, for great devotees of the Lord are rare in this world. (Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya 13.2, quoted in Madhya-līlā, 21)
A devotee in love with another devotee, both of whom are in love with Radha and Krishna, is not the same as the sexual union of two persons whose intent is purely sense gratificatory in nature. This is, I repeat over and over again, a form of devotional association that is highly privileged and sacred.

But it is my conviction that at a certain level of bhakti consciousness, in other words, the madhyama stage, when one does indeed recognize that Krishna is indeed Kāma. When this particular level of realization is reached, then devotional lovemaking becomes participation in the Divine Realm and not separate from it.

In this connection, I would like to introduce Mircea Eliade, one of the most significant thinkers on religion in the 20th century, and the way he conceived of the concepts of the “sacred” and the “profane” into the discussion by quoting a summary of his idea from the writing of another scholar (My bold):
According to Eliade, man becomes religious to the extent that he seeks reunification with those transmundane elements of his experience that are perceived to break through the profane dimensions of his existence and to confront him with a sense of “otherness” over which he has absolutely no control. Yet since virtually any object of existence both can and does serve to mediate this otherness to man, the words sacred and profane apply not to different kinds of objects which confront us in experience, but rather to different ways of perceiving and then relating ourselves to them. The clue to the distinction between these two differently perceived objects, then, derives from the power we impute to them and the point of origin we imagine for them. Even though sacred objects are accessible to us only within the world of profane existence, their liminal character and potency of expression make them appear to originate from beyond it.

Man responds religiously to such objects, Eliade contends, only when he seeks through myth and ritual to repeat those acts in illo tempore by which their sacred character was first made manifest.

Joseph Bettis has further illumined this distinction nicely when he writes that “if man’s purpose in relation to things perceived as profane is to shape them according to his needs, man’s purpose in relation to things perceived as sacred is to bring himself into conformity with them.” This is chiefly effected through what Eliade and others call the mode of repetition, that religious strategy whereby man, in imitation of the divine acts of creation through which the sacred discloses itself, attempts to conform himself to and remain within the sacred sphere, that realm which for him now constitutes the domain of the Really Real, and to extend its dominion over the ephemeral world of the profane. (Giles B. Gunn. “American Literature and the Imagination of Otherness.” In Religion as Story, 73)

So in connection with our discussion here, the following points can be made: Though virtually anything in this world can mediate “otherness” to man, there is nothing quite so circumscribed and filled with numinous power as sexuality. Its very danger and liminality make it the subject of many taboos and regulations. But it is the very power of sexuality and its potential to connect with the Other in the profound love, relation and union that makes it necessary to assimilate it to the sacred and not relegate it to the realm of the profane.

Eliade has correctly assessed the strategies that are used in any sacramental act and those apply here also. One has to approach the act with the correct mentality by applying the proper ritual. The idea of “bringing oneself into conformity” with the sacred is effectuated in this particular case by a reenactment of Radha and Krishna’s archetypal love in full consciousness of them, a participation mystique that is identical with the service mood and can only be experience in that mood.


shiva said...

Can you trace out when gaudiya vaisnavisa teachers first began to teach that sex is only for procreation and not for pleasure ay any time? Who and when first taught that sex for pleasure was to be avoided completely by everyone? And was that taught by all gurus since the time that teaching began? Were all gaudiya gurus of the past teaching what AC Bhaktivedanta taught about sex? How about gurus of more recent history? I've tried looking and couldn't find much on the historical development of that teaching.

Jagat said...

My impression is that this is the default position in Hinduism from Shankara's time onward:

Manu says:

na mamsa-bhakshane dosho
na madye na ca maithune
pravrittir esha bhutanam
nivrittis tu mahaphala

"There is no fault in meat-eating, nor in drinking wine, nor in sex, for these are the natural proclivities of all people. However, by renouncing them one attains a greater benefit."

And this is followed in the Bhagavatam 11.5.11-14. Indeed an argument may be made that the Bhagavatam doctrines of self-discipline, including its restrictions on sexual practices, were part of its appeal in the 15th century when this scripture starting making real inroads in Bengal. It made Vaishnavism respectable in a situation where its tendency was to be the opposite. This is one of the reasons why it is so significant that Chaitanya's followers were predominantly brahmins.

In general, in India, the association of the sexual to the spiritual is not mainstream or orthodox.

Jagat said...

As a footnote, I would say that this is also the reason why parakiya rasa is given the importance that it is in Rupa Goswami's writing. There would be no meaning of the gopis overcoming the bondage of dharma if the cultural situation was liberal rather than conservative.

I have mixed feelings about changing that dynamic.

Jagat said...

I just reread your comment and in your question about Bhaktivedanta Swami, may I suggest you consult Ekkehard Lorenz (Ekanath Das)'s article in the Edwin Bryant/Maria Ekstrand book on the Hare Krishna Movement.

Though Bhaktivedanta's teachings may not have been strictly different in kind, they were definitely greater in quantity. So no doubt he felt it necessary to push a more conservative agenda in the Western cultural situation.

shiva said...

I am aware that celibacy is advocated throuhgout the vedic canon. What I am looking for is when and where in gaudiya vaisnavisn history did the teaching that sex outside of procreation is forbidden and considered to be a falldown from a purer state. Did gaudiya practitioners hundreds of years ago follow something written in a specific gaudiya tika that all sex is totally forbidden except for procreation? The only place I have found that is in AC Bhaktivedantas books, so I was wondering where else is that taught by Gaudiya gurus.

shiva said...

Btw I asked ekanath some time ago, but he just gave the same basic answer as you did. What I'm looking for is where in gaudiya literature is celibacy not just recommended but that sex is actually forbidden and considered to be a sign of spiritual falldown as it is in Iskcon. Do other current gaudiya sangas teach the same as AC Bhaktivedanta that sex is strictly seen as intrinsically wrong except for procreation?

shiva said...

Ok, nevermind, I looked at Madhava's gaudiya wiki and he has a section on brahmacarya where he quotes what I was looking for http://wiki.gaudiyakutir.com/Brahmacarya

Jagat said...

Pretty thorough article indeed. A good resource.

Sri said...

Jagat; "The goal of the eyes is to see someone like you; the goal of the skin is to embrace the body of one such as you. The goal of the tongue is to sing the glories of one such as you, for great devotees of the Lord are rare in this world. (Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya 13.2, quoted in Madhya-lila, 21)

A devotee in love with another devotee, both of whom are in love with Radha and Krishna, is not the same as the sexual union of two persons whose intent is purely sense gratificatory in nature. This is, I repeat over and over again, a form of devotional association that is highly privileged and sacred."

Where to find such a poetic, romantic, ideal relationship with a raganuga vaishnava? I think this is the question on many people's minds. Too many vaishnava couplings seem to be frought with inharmony and incompatibility. What to speak of a lack of romance.

Sri said...

In the Wiki piece;

As one in his list of definitions of what a Vaisnava is, Jiva Gosvami in his Bhakti-sandarbha (202) cites the Skanda-purana's instructions of Markandeya to Bhagiratha:

yathā skānde mārkaṇḍeya-bhagīratha-saṁvāde -
dharmārthaṁ jīvitaṁ yeṣāṁ santānārthaṁ ca maithunam |
pacanaṁ vipramukhyārthaṁ jñeyās te vaiṣṇavā narāḥ ||

atra śrī-viṣṇor ājñā-buddhyaiva tat tat kriyata iti vaiṣṇava-padena gamyate ||

"Those people for whom the purpose of life is religion, for whom the purpose of sexual intercourse are children, and for whom the purpose of cooking is to serve the brahmanas, go by the name of 'Vaiṣṇava'."

Thus those, who act in awareness of the orders of Viṣṇu, are understood as Vaiṣṇavas.

The essence of the thought here is that a Vaiṣṇava would not do something that wouldn't be pleasing to Viṣṇu, and since sexual intercourse for mere enjoyment isn't something that can be offered, a Vaiṣṇava would not unnecessarily engage in it.


If sexual intercouse for mere enjoyment is not something that can be offered, then what about regular, every day affection like hugging or kissing your spouse? Can romantic gestures be offered? If not then what in the world are vaishnavas doing getting married? If you don't want a tree then why enter a forest? Having a marriage relationship with someone entails affection and romance. If you are not up to the mark in that area, or are not willing to be, then why marry in the first place? The world is already overrun with progeny, more kids are not needed. So then why would sadhaks marry at all, given the above definitions?

If one says for spiritual companionship, well, you can have same gender friends for that. Face it, marriage neccessitates romance, offerable or not.

Jagat said...

Dear Sri,

I think that so far you seem to have the best understanding of the problem I am trying to address.

This definition from the Skanda Purana should not be considered particularly important. These are tatastha lakshanas. The svarupa lakshana of a devotee is one who always remembers Krishna and does not forget him, and who is completely averse to ninda.

It is true that finding the appropriate partner is a very important goal. As I keep saying, it is almost as important as finding a guru.

Obviously, you have to look in the right places. Don't associate with people attached to vidhi-marga bhakti. If you are not already part of the raganuga family, join it.

But any more than that I cannot really say: You will have to depend on Krishna, as they say.

In the meantime, your only option is to cultivate raganuga bhakti with as much power as you can and throw yourself on Radharani's mercy.